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Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-loving New York

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3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  894 ratings  ·  171 reviews
When young Theodore Roosevelt was appointed police commissioner of New York City, he had the astounding gall to try to shut down the brothels, gambling joints, and after-hours saloons. This is the story of how TR took on Manhattan vice . . . and vice won.

In the 1890s, New York City was America’s financial, manufacturing, and entertainment capital, and also its preferred d...more
Audio CD, 12 pages
Published March 13th 2012 by Random House Audio (first published January 1st 2012)
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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 3.5* of five

The Book Description: When young Theodore Roosevelt was appointed police commissioner of New York City, he had the astounding gall to try to shut down the brothels, gambling joints, and after-hours saloons. This is the story of how TR took on Manhattan vice . . . and vice won.

In the 1890s, New York City was America’s financial, manufacturing, and entertainment capital, and also its preferred destination for sin, teeming with forty thousand prostitutes, glittery casinos, and...more
Charlene
This audio book was okay. I found my mind wandering a lot and I'm not sure why.

The narrative came across pretty well and there were a lot of neat facts about saloons and dancing girls- not to mention Tammany Hall politics, policemen taking bribes and committing crimes-all that kind of stuff. It was interesting in hearing about how T.R. (as he is often referred to in the book) took his midnight ramblings and found himself unfamiliar with the city in which he was born. But whenever the story came...more
Andrew
Theodore Roosevelt was a New York City police commissioner? Given all the attention his later exploits have gotten, I guess it isn’t surprising that his rather Quixotic efforts to reform the NYPD and clean up the city are largely forgotten. But reading this book shows how his tenure on the police Board of Commissioners set the stage for much of his later career, boosting his national profile and teaching him political lessons (often the hard way). Roosevelt is portrayed here as a strong-willed r...more
Lauren Albert
Fun look at Roosevelt's fight with corruption and vice. It made him few friends--particularly with the working-class immigrants who he denied the right to a cold drink on a hot Sunday--their only day off. Roosevelt felt, rightly or wrongly, that laws could not be selectively enforced. Laws could be changed but until they were, they should be enforced. So he fought to close saloons and bars on Sundays in enforcement of blue laws. He got his coveted appointment to the Navy at least in part because...more
Scott
I guess I was hoping that Richard Zacks's Island of Vice, a portrait of NYC in the 1890s (which at that time meant Manhattan) and, more specifically, the 16 months or so when Theodore Roosevelt was the town's Police Commissioner (or, at least, one of the city's four police commissioners... I never knew he shared power in that position), would be like Luc Sante's Low Life--which is awesome about the poor, and the "criminal class" from 1840 to 1919--but from the perspective of the (crooked) cops,...more
Lee MacCrea
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was written much like a novel, in story-like fashion that kept me inured in the proceedings of Teddy's "Midnight Ramblings" around late 19th century New York, and the tribulations with co-Commish Parker. Zacks has clearly researched the subject very well, as he pulls out minor details that help to further set the stage.

Two flaws I did find with the book were minor compared to its better qualities. One is the exclusion of a map of 19th century Manhattan. Throug...more
Josh
"Island of Vice" is an obvious attempt to show a negative side of Theodore Roosevelt. When the legendary man is separated from the White House, accomplishments in conservation, status as a cowboy, the Panama Canal, and fame as a war hero, a different personality emerges. We see a young TR who was often prudish, impossible to work with, a near loner, and a highly disliked personality in his home city of New York.

The author, Richard Zacks, loves to dwell on the remarkably seedy aspects of history....more
Doubleday  Books
Zacks (The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805, 2005, etc.) returns with a sharply focused look at Theodore Roosevelt’s brief tenure as a New York City police commissioner.

The author begins and ends with allusions to the naked goddess Diana perched atop Madison Square Garden—his symbol for the sensual interests of New Yorkers that Roosevelt was intent on controlling, if not diminishing to the vanishing point. Zacks sketches the anti-vice career of cr...more
Ash
I kept on seeing this book in my bookstore every time I pass the New U.S. History section. I was always intrigued by the cover but I was always afraid that'll be boring. Sometimes, historical non fiction is told in such a dry manner. I really picked up this book because there is a book club starting in March and Island of Vice was their first choice.

Island of Vice is the tale of 1890's New York. Boy, is it full of corruption, debauchary, and mayhem! Under Democratically run Tammany Hall, prostit...more
Jack
I loved it - once again an author set out to report the facts - this time it was to provide a glimpse into the sordid side of New York City at the end of the 19th century and the workings of the NY Police Commission.

One of the four commissioners between 1895 and 1898 was none other than Teddy Roosevelt. This man was going to enforce every law that was on the books - it was a battle of good vs evil.

The sub-title to the book says it all: "Theodore Roosevelt's doomed quest to clean up sin-loving Ne...more
Rob
Nice little chunk of TR's life. We see him spluttering, striding, sneaking through vice-ridden Manhattan as police commissioner, vowing with moral indignation to enforce all the laws and leave no little crack unchinked. We see him successful. But then we see him caught in the political backlash, and Tammany ascendant once more, and his own party run in terror from him.

No matter. Bumps in the road for TR, who always had his eye on bigger game. A year chasing beer and jailing prostitutes was neve...more
Tyler
I have to agree with those who thought the book got a little too detailed with political infighting descriptions. It is quite a long book but it never really kept me more than mildly interested. I suspect if I were to read again I would like it more. You are fairly bludgeoned with facts so it is harder to internalize what payoff they all are building toward when reading the first time. This happened to me with his Captain Kidd book, the second time was much better.

I agree Zacks is quite hard on...more
Gaby
To be honest, I didn't really know that much about Teddy Roosevelt beyond the book The War Lovers by Evan Thomas, his general reputation of being a Rough Rider, an adventurer, a Harvard man, one of the forces behind the Museum of Natural History in New York City. I wanted to read Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York and had expected to like him very much.

Richard Zacks' account of Teddy Roosevelt's term as a police commissioner is meticulously researc...more
Converse
In 1895, Theodore Roosevelt became one of 4 police commissioners for the City of New York, at that a municipality restricted to Manhattan and part of the Bronx. This appointment was the result of a reverend Pankhurst denouncing (in one the toniest churches in the city) the deep involvement of the local government, starting with the police, in taking payoffs to look the other way regarding prostitution, gambling, and drinking. After Pankhurst's initial sermon, he was sued (!) by the city for slan...more
Lynne-marie
Sep 04, 2013 Lynne-marie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: New York City-ites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Meghan
Teddy Roosevelt as a historical figure connotes a certain tough masculinity. The Rough Riders, the hunting, the cowboy image, "speak softly and carry a big stick" - he's sort of an early prototype of Ron Swanson, right?

Well, what if I were to tell you, that in addition to his Ron Swanson qualities, he was also the full-on Leslie Knope busybody of his day? That the Washington Post described him as "Never quiet, always in motion, perpetually bristling with plans, suggestions, interference, expostu...more
Jennifer


Not knowing much about Theodore Roosevelt before reading this book (even that he was a native New Yorker like myself!), I was excited to read this book about his time as Police Commissioner of NYC. This book was so interesting I could hardly bear to put it down... Not only is Roosevelt a fascinating character, but learning about the intrigues of NY politics and Tammany Hall made this story even more interesting. Although he had his flaws to be sure (hotheaded and overly confident in himself at...more
Jeni Enjaian
I was not impressed with this book. This book talks a big, (dirty), game but doesn't live up to it for several reasons. One, the author makes frequent rabbit trails. While the narrative is roughly chronological, the author frequently slows the pace of the narrative to examine every tiny detail about a particular trial or incident. Two, the author frequently gives unnecessary and frankly, uncomfortable examples for the different "vices" Theodore Roosevelt tried unsuccessfully to eradicate from Ne...more
Shira
This is an amazing book! Written about the turn of the century in New York, New York with all of the color you might expect, or, at least hope for. The story focuses on the police department and the republican party who attempt to convert the sexy, boozy Big Apple into a tame, respectable, Sabbath abiding citizens. Roosevelt, the head of the police, is brought to life as a zealous advocate of reform not much liked by the vice-loving residents of the city. The book is thoroughly researched and ti...more
Elizabeth
It's comforting to know corruption is a part of the human condition. We manage to struggle along and progress. New York City in 1895 had a new administration and Theodore Roosevelt in the police department thought he could eliminate vice. It was simple--just enforce the laws. Starting with making sure all bars were closed on Sunday, Roosevelt became increasingly unpopular. This is a fascinating look at New York politics. Roosevelt couldn't wait to get out of the quagmire, and New York couldn't w...more
Rick
Island of Vice; I thought this book which chronicles Theodore Roosevelt's efforts to curb vice in 1890's NYC would be fascinating. A political narrative akin to the work of Luc Sante. I have to think there is a more intersting tale about sinning in NY then the one that Zacks has authored. Way too much time is spent on Roosevelt's sparring with a fellow Police Commissioner on who should get promoted within the NYPD. Even typing this I am falling asleep. The author has does prodigious research but...more
Teresa
Not the rollicking, scintillating story of TR's famous midnight rambles to defeat police corruption that I expected. The book gets weighed down by too many descriptions of bureaucratic nonsense and court cases that don't really shore up the narrative. One gets the sense that Zacks spent his time working on this book cheering on the cops and looking down at Roosevelt. Still, it is an interesting look at why reform is so hard to achieve.
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Jul 21, 2012 Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides marked it as maybe-read-sometime  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Snail in Danger (Sid) by: spotted at the library
It seems like the author did an exhaustive amount of research, but at the same time, it kind of weirds me out when authors seem to be encouraging me to cozy up to the subject of a biography without properly introducing us first. I know who Theodore Roosevelt is, of course, but I don't know enough about him to feel comfortable thinking of him as "TR." Maybe that was his intimates called him but ... I don't know that.
Jodi
I had high hopes for this book. Teddy Roosevelt as police commissioner of NYC, determined to clean up the streets. The book certainly covered his valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to reform NYC. But it also showcased what it took to stop vice. Like today, they went after the prostitutes rather than the johns, the bar owners not the drinkers. Lead us not into temptation, we can find it very well on our own, thank you very much. There were endless chapters on putting police officers on t...more
Tony
A surprisingly dull account of Theodore Roosevelt's stint as a NYC police commissioner. Island of Vice deals with issues such as prostitution, police corruption, and graft, as well as many larger than life characters. Given this ensemble of colorful topics and individuals, it is a shame that Zacks's narrative is, at best, sepia toned.
Jamie
Though it's so densely packed with information that it reads a little slowly, this is a fascinating look at Teddy Roosevelt's time as a police commissioner in NYC and an intriguing view of New York at the turn of the century. Definitely recommend to anyone interested in Roosevelt, politics, or general US history.
Lisa
Very interesting, very readable, thoroughly enjoyable book.

It is a specialty area of interest, so it may not be for everyone. However, it is filled with delicious gossip, feuds, prostitutes, drinking, and all things turn of the century. Plus, Teddy Roosevelt! Who can say no to that?
AnnieM
It was good, not great. It does drag as an audio in a few spots, but that is due to the detailed research that went into the book.

The amazing fact is that this book only covers less than five years. It is full of sex, betrayal, violence, treachery, debauchery, and other fun things.

The courts, the cops, and the "political machine" are all corrupt beyond belief, in steps TR to set things right.

It's a worthy listen, but possibly a better read. It really drug at the end.

Here is what I learned. Cop...more
Bookworm1858
This is a hard review for me to write because I do not read much non-fiction. And most of what I have read in the past years was for academic research, not for fun. While I could produce an academic paper on this book, that would be decidedly not fun and it would not fit the content of my blog and general review style. But I still would like to be informative so here's my attempt :)

I was attracted to this book due to the presence of a certain Mr. Roosevelt, aka my favorite president and inspirat...more
Amy
Teddy Roosevelt was quite a force to be reckoned with! This book is extremely interesting, and provides so much insight into his character. It's also surprisingly moving when looking at parts of T.R.'s personal life.

I listened to this on audiobook, and it was narrated by Joe Ochman. Ochman was an excellent narrator, and he altered his voice for each personality in the book. I found this to be extremely helpful, because this book is crawling with names--there is no way that I'd be able to keep ev...more
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How does a community or nation drive away corruption 1 3 Jan 22, 2014 02:56PM  
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Richard Zacks (1955-?) was born in Savannah, Georgia but grew up in New York City. He was a Classical Greek major at the University of Michigan and studied Arabic in Cairo, Italian in Perugia, and French in the vineyards of France.. After completing Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, he wrote a syndicated column for four years carried by the NY Daily News, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News...more
More about Richard Zacks...
The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines & the Secret Mission of 1805 An Underground Education: The Unauthorized and Outrageous Supplement to Everything You Thought You Knew About Art, Sex, Business, Crime, Science, Medicine, and Other Fields of Human Knowledge History Laid Bare: Love, Sex & Perversity from the Ancient Etruscans to Warren G. Harding The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805

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